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Nashua congregation relishes cafe's coffee, and church's mission

Union Leader Correspondent

February 20. 2013 8:07PM
Paul Berube, senior pastor at Grace Fellowship Church in Nashua, points to a New Hampshire-shaped rock in the fireplace at Bonhoeffer's Cafe. A portion of the cafe's proceeds go to aid children in Third World countries. (SIMON RIOS PHOTO)

NASHUA - When Pastor Paul Berube made the journey from Anchorage to Nashua in 1984, the last thing on his mind was to open a café in the name of the priest, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who attempted to kill the Fuehrer.

"For the most part, the church in Germany capitulated completely to (Adolf) Hitler, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer not only verbalized the stand against the Reich . but he was one of the guys that tried to assassinate Hitler," Berube said.

Berube is the senior pastor at Grace Fellowship Church, a non-denominational evangelical congregation on Franklin Street. The church dwells within the city's old industrial district, on the banks of the Nashua River on a campus that includes a host of nonprofit organizations, a Christian school and Bonhoeffer's Café and Espresso.

The coffee shop is as elegant as it is cozy, with high-reaching ceilings over wood, leather and tile furnishing. Brick walls and large windows are all around, and an always-burning fire at the foot of a massive stone fireplace.

"A lot of cafes go European motif, but we were trying to really maximize the industrial look of the era, of the street, but still a contemporary vibe," he said.

Patrons sip lattes while ticking away at their laptops, as Fox News plays on a flatscreen in the corner and people shuffle about in the upstairs offices visible from the café.

Bonhoeffer's offers the range of coffee beverages, in addition to lunch and breakfast items and baked goods. All of the coffee is organic and Fair Trade certified.

Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce president Chris Williams is a regular at the cafe. He compares it to something one would find in an international city.

"Bonhoeffer's Cafe is one of downtown Nashua's best hidden gems," Williams said. "It's the kind of coffeehouse you'd expect to find in Seattle or Austin, and is a great place for either a first date or a casual business meeting."

The café opened five years ago, after five years of planning and building. Asked about the genesis of the coffee shop, Berube said it's because the congregation relishes coffee. But it's also about the church's mission to help the poor.

"I started thinking, 'What can we do to help create more funds to empower kids around the world?' And it was a just natural - we love coffee," he said.

He's led humanitarian delegations around the world, from South Korea to Myanmar and the Philippines, funded in part by the café's earnings. A card on the table tells customers that every cup of coffee helps provide sustenance and education for orphans and refugees in poor and developing countries.

Twenty cents from each cup goes to the cause, amounting to as much as $1,000 a month.

"We tried to come up with an urban renewal project that was culturally relevant, the café is, and then help to meet felt needs here in the community," Berube said. "And so this accom?plishes all three of those things."

Berube's story is integral to that of the Grace Fellowship Church. He grew up in Nashua's working class Tree Street neighborhood, a descendant of the French Canadian immigrants who would shape the city's ethnic makeup. With a low draft number he joined the Air Force, and though he'd largely dropped religion, he met a man there that caused him to find Christ.

He said the meeting made a radical change in his perspective and became a turning point. After leaving the Air Force, he entered university on a path that led him to Bible school.

Berube and his cohorts from Alaska were into the idea of "church planting," launching teams to settle in different parts of the country and form congregations.

With a team of six families from the Abbott Loop Christian Center, in Anchorage, he came back to Nashua in 1984. They founded Grace Fellowship with 23 people, and now, Berube says, there are now 1,000 active members.

Grace Fellowship has a sister church in Alaska that came up with the cafe idea - a coffeehouse named after the anti-fascist Lutheran, Bonhoeffer.

The Bonhoeffer's in Alaska is based out of an old school bus, Berube said, a sharp contrast from the Franklin Street oasis that the city has come to know.

"We said if we're going to do it, we're going do it with excellence, and we're going to make it a multi-purpose space."

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